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Direct From TV

From the middle of the 20th century on, dolls depicting the public's favorite television characters became a staple of the toy industry. For doll collectors these characters recall happy childhood hours of play and television viewing and comprise an interesting focus within our collections.

In the 19th and early 20th century toys were advertised primarily through magazines and newspapers. These ads were aimed at the adult buyers who would be choosing toys for their children. But in the early 1940s everything started to change as television became the new medium for home entertainment, a development that would have a major impact on the toy trade.

On April 30, 1952 Mr. Potato Head made history by becoming the first toy advertised on television. This groundbreaking campaign was also a new concept as it marketed the toy directly to children. Once the floodgates were opened, television would become the top medium for toy companies to present new dolls to young viewers.

Children’s shows which had gotten their start in the late 1940s and early ’50s with shows such as the Howdy Doody Show and the Ding Dong School became a match made in heaven for toy company sponsors. Not only were toys advertised on these shows but a wide range of toy products based on television show characters soon found their way into the toy lines of large and small manufacturers.

One of the earliest children’s shows on television was the Howdy Doody Show premiering on NBC in 1947. “Buffalo” Bob Smith’s creation had previously been on radio. Merchandising of Howdy Doody products began almost immediately with puppets, marionettes, windup toys and more appearing on store shelves. Dolls of the various show characters were also available, from 1948 to 1955 Effanbee made a Howdy Doody doll (doll courtesy of Ruby Lane shop My Dolly Market). Howdy had a composition socket head and hands, cloth stuffed body and was dressed in a cowboy outfit.  The Cameo Toy Co. made a wooden segmented doll version of Howdy Doody. Show character Princess Summerfall Winterspring was made in doll form such as the14″ hard plastic doll made by Beehler Arts seen here. An 8″ hard plastic doll was also available. 
I Love Lucy starring Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley had its first run from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957, on the CBS network. When the Ricardos welcomed their baby boy on the show American Character obtained the licensing to create their Ricky Jr. doll (doll courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Dollyology Vintage Dolls & Antiques / Collectibles). The cloth Lucy in the center has a plastic mask face and is 28″ tall. These Lucy dolls were used as prizes in a promotional contest by the show’s original sponsor Philip Morris. Whitman Publishing did their I Love Lucy paper doll set in 1953.
In 1960 the Flintstones animated sit-com debuted in primetime. The show was the most financially successful animated franchise on television for 3 decades. When Fred and Wilma had their baby Pebbles the Ideal Novelty and Toy company came out with doll versions of Pebbles and her friend Bamm Bamm. Left is Baby Pebbles (doll courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Charlotte’s Web Vintage Dolls and Collectibles) and on the right is the 16″ model introduced in 1964. Other versions of Pebbles and Bamm Bamm would be offered in a range of sizes and toward the end of the 20th century other companies would also add Flintstone dolls to their lines.

Throughout the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and on into the 21st century a vast number of dolls have been made depicting out favorite television show characters. Some of the many dolls eagerly sought by collectors include: 

Captain Kangaroo by Baby Barry Co.

Lawrence Welk’s Champagne Lady by Effanbee

Ellie Mae Clampett by Unique Toys Co. 

Ben, Hoss & Little Joe Cartwright by American Character 

The Flying Nun by both Hasbro & Horsman 

The Waltons by Mego

The 6 Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman by Kenner

The Fonz by Mego

Mr. Kotter and the Sweathogs by Mattel

Charlie’s Angels by Hasbro

Mork & Mindy by Mattel

Space 1999 characters by Mattel

Sabrina the Teenage Witch by Kenner 

Jem & The Holograms by Hasbro

In 1963 The Patty Duke Show premiered on ABC and featured Patty Duke playing dual roles as identical cousins. Horsman’s Patty Duke doll was a 12″ doll with rooted hair and painted eyes and came with her own princess phone.
Adventure shows were popular in the 1960s. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) had its first run on NBC from 1964 to 1968. Show characters Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin were created as action figure dolls by Gilbert Toys. (Illya doll courtesy of Ruby Lane Shop Michele’s Antique Dolls) Creator Gene Roddenberry brought his space adventure show Star Trek to television from 1966 to 1969. Thanks to syndication the exploits of the crew of the Enterprise have never left the airwaves. In 1973 the Mego Corporation brought out a line of 8″ tall dolls based on the show’s main characters.
Fantasy worlds were a great escape from the tumultuous 1960s and in 1964 Bewitched debuted on ABC. The show starred Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York and Agnes Moorehead. Ideal offered a 12″ Samantha doll which came in either a red or blk outfit (Samantha doll courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Identical Cousins). In the second season of the show Samantha and Darin had a baby girl named Tabitha and Ideal came out with her in doll form. Ideal’s Tabitha was 14″ tall and had side glancing painted eyes.
Another popular fantasy show was I Dream of Jeanie starring Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden which aired in its first run from 1965 to 1970. Remco’s 6″ Jeannie had a playset featuring her bottle and its furnishings. On the right is the 20″ Jeannie made by Libby (doll courtesy of Ruby Lane shop  Your-Favorite-Doll).
 In 1966 CBS brought the program Family Affair to the airwaves, starring Brian Keith. The three children on the show were fan favorites leading to Mattel offering dolls in the likeness of Anissa Jones’ character Buffy. Not only were dolls made based on this show character but an existing doll would become an important character on the show. Mattel’s Mrs. Beasley doll was created a year prior to the show but soon became a cultural icon of the era. In 1969 Whitman produced a paper doll set featuring Buffy and Mrs. Beasley.

Inspired by the real-life singing family The Cowsills, The Partridge Family starring Shirley Jones and David Cassidy was brought to primetime in 1970. Remco’s version of Susan Dey’s character Laurie Partridge came out in 1973 and stood 19 inched tall. Julia starring Diahann Carroll was ground breaking as the first weekly television series to depict an African American in a non-servile role. The title character of the show was a young widow working as a professional nurse while raising her son. Mattel’s Julia was added to the Barbie line-up and could be had in her nurse’s uniform or in casual attire.

Any way you view it, television and doll collecting are both a record of the social history of the past eighty years and a fun area to pursue as collectors!

Author – Linda Edward